Heather Bien

writing and designing a colorful life

Travel Guide: Iceland, Part Two, Ring Road Day Trip

Wow, somehow almost three months have passed us by and I finally have my last Europe recap for you. Local trips and more blog content than I could keep up with (this is a good problem to have!) meant that I kept pushing back the last of my Iceland posts further and further, but I'm so excited to share it with you today!

THE RING ROAD


On my previous trip to Iceland, I did part of the Golden Circle, but I knew that on this visit, with a bit more time to work with, I wanted to venture out onto the Ring Road. So many of those other worldly landscapes you see on Instagram from Iceland road trips come from the Ring Road, and I was so pumped to see it for myself. With an old school map in hand, a hope that getting lost would be next to impossible given the simplicity of the road system in Iceland, and wishing for a miracle that maybe our cell service would work, we set out bright and early on our Ring Road road trip.




ICELANDIC HORSES


Our first stop wasn't planned, but the minute I saw those fuzzy Icelandic horses on the side of the road, I insisted we pull over. This was something I missed last time, and I was not about to let that happen again. Along the Ring Road, you'll see Icelandic horses shortly after getting outside of Reykjavik, and often they're right along the road. How photogenic are they?!




SELJALANDSFOSS AND SKOGAFOSS


Waterfalls are one of the major attractions along the Ring Road, and I definitely wasn't expecting the impact of these natural falls. The first waterfall we stopped at was Seljalandsfoss, which is not pictured below because my camera was way too wet to capture it. At Seljalandsfoss, you can walk behind the waterfall itself and get an amazing view looking up from underneath the water. I'll be honest, I was one of the many people who was shocked at just how soaking wet you get when standing beneath a waterfall...I know, I know, it would seem to make sense, but somehow no one seems prepared. Consider this your warning.

We almost bypassed the next waterfall for the sake of time, but when we realized the Skogafoss was right off the main road, we decided to go for it. And I'm so glad we did. I thought Skogafoss was even more majestic than Seljalandsfoss. It's surrounded by the most stunning green moss, grass, or something, and once at the top, you have a breathtaking view of the waterfall and the path the water takes to get there.





DYRHÓLAEY


Okay, we only stopped at Dyrhólaey because we heard this could be a spot to find puffins. We had zero luck, but did spend some time reveling in this rock arch formed by thousands of years of salt water hitting the coast. This stop is absolutely worth making because it's so different than anything else you'll see on the Ring Road, but just be aware that the drive up is a little bit nerve wracking and it's freezing and windy once you reach the top. Or at least it was the day that we were there, which is probably why there were zero puffins to be found...




REYNISFJARA BLACK SAND BEACH


The black sand beach is one of those iconic Icelandic images you think of, and the warning signs along the path leading out to the beach telling the stories of tourists who have been swept away by rogue waves add to the creepy mystery of this place. Large stones jutting out from the ice cold water and black sand as far as you can see makes for an isolated and mysterious experience. Except you're not that isolated because there are lots of other tourists there with you.





THE OTHER WORLDLY TERRAIN


All along the Ring Road, you'll go from these alien landscapes with huge rocks covered in moss to rolling green hills to flat desert to small Nordic towns to huge mountains and glaciers, all the while taking in rainbows around every turn. It's absolutely crazy how the terrain changes within minutes and you feel like you're in a totally different world.




JÖKULSÁRLÓN GLACIER LAGOON


So Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a solid two to three hours past the black sand beaches of Reynisfjara and I know a lot of people are tempted to forgo it, but don't. It was the highlight of our Ring Road road trip, and while we barely made it before dark, we were so amazed by the sight of these massive glaciers breaking off into an icy lagoon that I can't imagine having skipped it. The pictures tell the story. It's absolutely freezing there, it's windy, it was raining when we were there, and you don't want to go anywhere near the water (well...actually I dipped my hand in just to see how cold it was and the verdict was very). But, it's a spectacular experience that's truly once in a lifetime.




DIAMOND BEACH


Literally directly across the street from the glacier lagoon is Diamond Beach. As the glaciers break into the lagoon and then make their way into the ocean, they continue to break into smaller pieces, eventually floating back up with the tide and on to Diamond Beach. The beach was covered with photographers far more talented than me getting the most stunning images of the golden hour light hitting these chunks of ice along the black sand beach.






WHAT I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY


This is going to be a new feature in my travel posts — what I would do differently. No matter how great a trip is, there's always something you look back on and think you could improve for next time. Our Ring Road road trip was no exception. If we were to do this trip again, Adam and I would both agree that we'd split it into 2 days. This road trip was 13 hours start to finish, which was absolutely exhausting.

Next time, we'd stop halfway and stay at one of the hotels that dot the Ring Road. There aren't a ton of options, but as we passed by a few I looked them up and realized they weren't much more than our Airbnb in Reykjavik. It totally would have been worth it to spend a bit more time at the sites and maybe even stop at a few that we skipped over for the sake of time.




FOLLOW ME

I'm ending this recap of my Icelandic travels with one of the many cairns we saw throughout our trip. There's really no telling whether these directional markers made from rocks have been there for ages or were erected by tourists, but I liked to imagine ancient vikings finding their way through the rough terrain using only these rocks as guides.

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